Roles in Relationships

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Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients ...Read More

Tom grew up in a family that was very loving and openly affectionate. His mother worked part-time as a nurse and still managed to do all of the cooking, laundry and child care. His dad helped out a bit with chores inside and handled everything outside. Tom’s dad handled the family finances and made most of the decisions about money. They had a lot of family time together and his parents really protected their time alone.

Susan’s parents were very different. Her mother was an attorney and a very strong woman. Her dad traveled with his job in sales. They were very business-like in their decision-making and handled most things jointly.


They had a lot of humor in their family but not a lot of warmth. Caring and concern were usually shown through purchases and experiences. Susan was very clear that her parents loved her and each other but it was shown more through gifts, money and travel rather than affection.

When Tom and Susan married, they had different ideas of how a marriage should be lived. Neither one was wrong. They were just different. They brought to the marriage what many do, ideas and expectations for how a relationship should be lived.

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We all come to relationships with ideas of how we should act and interact, the roles and behaviors of a relationship. Sometimes our ideas and expectations are similar. Sometimes they are different. Problems can arise when partners have different ideas for each of their roles in a relationship.

Understanding and talking out loud about those ideas are an important first step for a couple who find themselves in different spaces. Here are some questions to get you started.

Answer each of these questions for yourself. It would be best if you would write your answers down on paper. Then share your answers with each other.

Try not to judge your spouse’s response as there are no right or wrong answers … only what you expect, think or want.

How would you describe your mother’s role in your family?

  • What did you like about the way she was as a wife and mother?
  • What did you decide you wanted to do differently (women) or want differently in your spouse (men)?

What about your father’s role? How would you describe him as a husband and father?

  • What did you like about the way he was as a husband and a father?
  • What did you decide you wanted to do differently (men) or want differently in your spouse (women)?

When you envisioned your ideal mate? What qualities did you look for?

  • Were your desires and expectations met … or are you still trying to make him or her into your ideal mate?

When you think about typical couple relationship connections like nurturing and physical affection … how did you think that they would be in your own marriage?

  • How were those ideas formed? From what you saw between your parents while growing up? From the movies, television, reading or just your imagination and daydreaming?

    What about roles regarding money, sex and intimacy, child-rearing, household tasks, connection vs. independence?

    • Think about each of these areas and talk about what your understanding was of how your parents interacted in each of these areas.
    • How did your parents’ ways of handling things affect your own approach to them?

    What dreams do you have for yourself and for your relationship?

    • Talk about the dreams that you have for your life and your life together. Get a good understanding of your partner’s hopes and dreams.
    • Are they similar? If not, how can you find ways to honor both?

    The goal at this stage is not to solve any problems, just to get a better understanding of how each of you thinks about the roles in your relationship. From understanding, accepting and respecting these differences, steps can be taken to honor both of your desires.

Keep Reading By Author Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT
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